Eulogy For A Forest

Personal memory by John Shepard

1962 CETwo Harbors, Minnesota

"When I was about eight—I think the year was 1962—a friend and I encountered a recently felled, magnificent eastern white pine in an old-growth stand along the Lake Superior shore near Two Harbors, Minnesota. We eagerly climbed its gnarled bark, stood for a moment atop the tree's massive, horizontal trunk, and set off gleefully running down its length. Our footfalls awakened a resident hornet's nest and were stung badly—an event seared into memory. I've visited that old tree at least once in each of the 50 years that have passed since that day, and I've come to measure its gradual return into the forest floor against my own life journey. Today the tree is barely more than a linear shadow in the pine duff and low vegetation of the old pine grove. Several young trees, including some white pine, are growing from its mossy remains. This observation, this enduring link of death with new life, has enriched my perspective as I've watched my children grow, my parents pass on, and moved toward autumn in the circle of my own life. But on another level, at the scale of the species and of the ecosystem in which it lives, this cycle of life and rebirth continues to change. Minnesota's big white and red pine were nearly eliminated through logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Now ecologists studying the changing north woods predict that within another 50 years Minnesota's coniferous forests will be all but gone from the state due to climate change. Replacing the pine will be savannah with a mix of prairie plants and hardwoods formerly at home in more southern climes. This knowledge adds another layer, and a deeper sense of loss, as I witness the final seasons the old white pine."

Image: Johndan Johnson-Eilola, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons